Have you ever wondered about what became of all of those true one-hit wonders? One-hit wonder, meaning artists who had a song go to #1 on the Billboard pop charts and then disappeared into obscurity. Although the artists themselves seemed to fade out of sight, many times their songs lived on; either standing on their own, being associated with movies or by being re-recorded by other artists.
"Teen Angel" is a teenage tragedy song that was written by Jean Dinning and performed by Jean's brother, Mark Dinning. It went on to become a #1 hit on February 8, 1960. Mark Dinning never recorded another hit song and died of a heart attack in 1986 at the age of 52, in Jefferson City, Missouri. Strangely enough, the song was included in the soundtrack to the hit movie, “American Graffiti”; begging the question, “Why didn’t this artist go any further?”
The song, "Alley-Oop", was written and composed by Dallas Frazier. The song, inspired by the V. T. Hamlin-created comic strip of the same name, was first recorded by Frazier as a country tune in 1957. The Hollywood Argyles, a short-lived studio band, recorded the song in 1960, and it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the US R&B chart. It was produced by Gary Paxton, who also sang lead vocals. The chief Argyle, Gary Paxton, was also the leader of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s Crypt-Kicker Six.
"Stay" is a doo-wop song written by Maurice Williams and first recorded in 1960 by Williams with his group, The Zodiacs. Commercially successful recordings of the same song were later also released by both The Hollies and The Four Seasons.
Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs were an American doo-wop/R&B vocal group in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Originally known by the name, The (Royal) Charms. The band went on to change its name (two more times) to The Gladiolas in 1957 and The Excellos in 1958. They finally settled on The Zodiacs. Could all of the confusion with the various name changes have hurt their following? It is also interesting to note that the The Four Seasons, a well-known group of that era, later took “Stay” to #16 on the charts in 1964.
In 1961, Ernie K-Doe, an African-American rhythm-and-blues singer recorded "Mother-in-Law", written and produced by Allen Toussaint. The song was a #1 hit in the U.S. on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard R&B charts. Toussaint also contributed the piano solo.
After several unsuccessful takes, Toussaint balled up the composition and threw it away as he was leaving the room. One of the backup singers, Willie Hopper, thought that it was such a good song that he convinced K-Doe to give it one more try.
"Hey! Baby" is a song written by Margaret Cobb and Bruce Channel, and recorded by Channel in 1961. It was first released on LeCam Records, a local Fort Worth, Texas label. The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, starting the week ending March 10, 1962.
Delbert McClinton blows the harp on this, and it was when Channel was touring with the Beatles that McClinton famously taught John Lennon how to play the harmonica.
“Dominique" is a 1963 French language popular song, written and performed by Jeannine Deckers of Belgium, better known as Sœur Sourire or The Singing Nun. "Dominique" is about Saint Dominic, a Spanish-born priest and founder of the Dominican Order, of which she was a member (as Sister Luc-Gabrielle).
The song reached and stayed at #1 on on both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and "easy listening chart" for four weeks in December of 1963.
Deckers never again reached the same success and continued to lead a colorful, but tragic life. Deckers and her companion of ten years both committed suicide in 1985 because of financial and tax problems stemming from the recording of the song. Debbie Reynolds portrayed her in the 1965 film version; Jeanne Deckers left the convent the following year.
"Winchester Cathedral" is a song by The New Vaudeville Band, a British novelty group established by the song's composer, Geoff Stephens, and was released in late 1966 by Fontana Records.
It reached #1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Stephens wrote "Winchester Cathedral", complete with a Rudy Vallée soundalike (John Carter) singing through his hands to imitate a megaphone sound. The song was recorded entirely by session musicians and an actual band had to assembled when it became an international hit. The band toured extensively under the tutelage of Peter Grant, who later went on to manage The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin.
The leader of the New Vaudeville Band, Geoff Stephens, also wrote the hit songs “There’s a Kind of Hush” and “The Crying Game.”
"Harper Valley PTA" is a country song written by Tom T. Hall that was a major international hit single for country singer Jeannie C. Riley in 1968. It later became the basis for a hit film and TV series.
Riley's record sold over six million copies as a single. The song made Riley the first woman to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and the U.S. Hot Country Singles charts with the same song, a feat that would go unrepeated until Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" in 1981.
"In the Year 2525" is a 1969 hit song by the American pop-rock duo Zager and Evans. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks, commencing July 12, 1969. Zager and Evans disbanded in 1971.
It is unusual for a recording artist to have a number one hit and then never have another chart single. Zager and Evans are the only band to do this in both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart.
Zager now builds custom guitars at Zager Guitars, which is based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Evans has largely stayed out of the public eye, but resurfaced for some online commentaries about "2525" and his recent life in 2013.
"Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" written and recorded by Paul Leka, Gary DeCarlo and Dale Frashuer, attributed to a then-fictitious band they named "Steam". This was a studio-only group and when the song hit, Paul Leka put together a band called Steam to tour behind it. The band broke up before they ever went on the tour, so Leka had to then put together another touring group.
It became a #1 pop single on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1969, and remained on the charts in early 1970.
In 1977, Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust started playing the song when White Sox sluggers knocked out the opposing pitcher. The fans sang the song and a sports ritual was born! The song's chorus remains well-known, and is still frequently used as a crowd chant at many sporting events.
These are a few examples of the “one hit wonders” phenomenon throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. A few more to mention are:
“Telstar” — The Tornados (1962)
“Wipe Out” — The Surfaris (1963)
“Ringo” — Lorne Greene (1964)
“Eve of Destruction” — Barry McGuire (1965)
“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” — Napoleon XIV (1966)
“Green Tambourine” — The Lemon Pipers (1968)
“Grazing in the Grass”– Hugh Masekela (1968)
“Spirit In The Sky” — Norman Greenbaum (1969)
What is your favorite one hit wonder?